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Choosing a specialisation

How early should you specialise in your career? Should you choose commercial work or private client? An overview of what to expect in different specialisations.

If your attraction to the law arose from televisions programmes such as LA Law and Ally McBeal you may be slightly disappointed when you start work as a lawyer! That is not to say that a career in the law is not exciting and challenging but litigation is not the only interesting area of the law. Even those who do specialise in litigation cases will find that most cases do not end up in the court room and certainly not as quickly as on television!

It is possible to specialise at a very early stage in your career by training with a niche practice, but most people will want to gain some experience before deciding which path to take. The following is an overview of some potential areas of specialisation:


Property law covers a very wide range of work from residential conveyancing to huge commercial developments. The type of work available is likely to depend on the size and type of firm you work for. If working on multi million pound transactions appeals, bear in mind that you are likely to work as a member of a team and may have relatively little contact with clients. In contrast a residential conveyancer in a high street firm can expect lots of responsibility at an early stage in their career and daily client contact.

Private client

In larger firms work for individual clients will be categorised generally as “private client” work but the range can be great, from dealing with a simple will to advising on tax and offshore trusts. In a smaller firm the work is most likely to include wills, family trusts and personal tax planning. If you are not drawn to advocacy this may be a good area for you although a good intellect and strong communication skills are still a prerequisite. The main professional group for private client lawyers is The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners, see their website at -


From a high profile fraud case to a shop lifting case in the local magistrates your day would never be dull if you decide to specialise in criminal work. In comparison with some other areas of the law this is fast paced work. You should expect lots of advocacy and client contact but also a complex and constantly developing area of the law. Working hours at unsocial times of the day is not uncommon, for example to advise a client at a police station. See the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association for more information at


The range of family work can vary enormously from acting for a child in relation to local authority care proceedings to representing the super wealthy in a complex financial dispute [see Day in the life of a family lawyer]. In recent years a feature of the London market has been the emergence of a number of niche family firms representing wealthy clients. Some large commercial firms, having closed their private client and family departments in the 80’s and 90’s, have re-entered the family law market. With the introduction of civil partnerships and increasingly international aspects, family law is a lively and evolving specialism. Alternative methods of resolving disputes have come to the fore with family lawyers training as mediators and collaborative lawyers. The largest professional organisation for family lawyers is Resolution – see

Litigation and dispute resolution

This is a varied and extremely wide area of the law and most lawyers now specialise in a specific area of litigation. Some of the professional organisations for specialist litigation lawyers are detailed below:

Property Litigation Organisation -

Association of Personal Injury Lawyers –

Employment Lawyers Association -

London Solicitors’ Litigation Association -

In large firms you are likely to concentrate of a specific sector or industry, for example construction litigation, or shipping litigation. Personal injury lawyers will often either act mainly for claimants or for defendant insurance companies rather than a mixture of both. Similarly employment lawyers may act largely for employers or employees rather than both [see Day in the life of an employment lawyer].

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has become increasingly popular in recent years. High costs and lengthy delays before a case will be listed for trial are some of the motivating factors for looking at alternative ways of resolving disputes. See the Civil Justice Council’s website for more information on ADR -

Company and commercial

This is a very large sector and the top end of the market is dominated by very large firms although some niche practices have a significant presence. In smaller and regional firms the company and commercial department may act for a range of locally based businesses although some major companies have moved their commercial work to the larger regional firms attracted by lower charging rates combined with quality work. In a large London firm you can expect to work on large transactions for PLC’s, Government departments and international companies amongst others. Salaries tend to be higher than in other specialisms and consequently working hours are usually longer too.

Niche areas

You may be attracted more by a specific field of law, such as human rights, or a certain sector, such as the media, rather than by a particular type of work. Human rights specialists for example can undertake work which covers areas as diverse as criminal, housing, police actions and mental health. There are a number of firms who specialise in media work and will act for their clients across a range of areas including commercial, litigation, tax planning and even family law. If you feel strongly about a particular issue, such as the environment, there is even an association of lawyers who specialise in this area! You may want to utilise some experience gained prior to becoming a lawyer, for example a background in building and construction would be very useful as a construction lawyer. Clearly the possibilities are endless but do your research and assess your specialism carefully before making a decision.


Human Rights Lawyers Association

UK Environmental Lawyers Association

International Media Lawyers Association

Society of Construction Law

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